DEFRA has announced new rules on pet imports from January 1st 2012 and they will bring rabies vaccinations for entry into the UK in line with the rest of Europe.

A risk assessment was carried out by DEFRA to check how the changes will affect the level of risk of rabies entering the UK. Although the probability will increase, the assessment found the risk to still be very low.

Dogs, cats and pet ferrets entering the UK from an EU or listed third country from January 1st 2012 will need to:

• be microchipped;
• be vaccinated against rabies;
• have waited 21 days after vaccination before entering
• have an EU Pet Passport.

The current requirement to carry out a blood test followed by a six-month wait before entry into the UK will no longer be required. From January 1st 2012 pets entering from a non-listed third country must pass a blood test 30 days after vaccination followed by a three-month wait.

The UK and Ireland have had derogations from EU pet travel rules to allow for additional controls to protect against rabies, ticks and tapeworms. Vaccination programmes in wildlife in mainland Europe have now allowed the UK to consider whether additional rabies controls are still necessary.

Harvey Locke, president of the BVA, said: "It is essential that pet owners get good veterinary advice when planning to take their animals abroad because pets can be exposed to a number of diseases not currently endemic in the UK, for example leishmaniasis, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis."

Andrew Ash, president of the BSAVA, added: "The Pet Travel Scheme has been highly successful in keeping the UK free of rabies. BVA and BSAVA have been working closely with DEFRA to ensure that any changes to the pet travel rules do not threaten our disease-free status. The rabies vaccine has advanced and now has a longer duration of immunity and we welcome the continuing requirement for all pets to be vaccinated before travel."

The export department at Airpets can advise on each individual country's requirements.

More information is available on the DEFRA website, including a leaflet for pet owners.